Hansen leaps to defence of under-fire Cheika

Steve Hansen (Gallo Images)
Steve Hansen (Gallo Images)

Tokyo - New Zealand coach Steve Hansen on Thursday launched an impassioned defence of Wallabies rival Michael Cheika, pointing to how Manchester United stuck with Alex Ferguson before a glittering run of football success.

After Hansen and Cheika named their teams for this weekend's Bledisloe Cup clash in Japan, the All Blacks coach offered support to his opposite number, who survived calls for his head thanks to a stunning 45-34 comeback win over Argentina earlier this month.

"I do know that continuity has been proven over and over again to be a pretty good recipe," said Hansen.

"Look at Alex Ferguson. He was just about to get the sack and went on to do the job for 30 years - and he wasn't too bad."

Hansen likened Cheika's position to current United manager Jose Mourinho, who has come under fire after a poor start to the season.

"Mourinho is probably in a similar boat at the moment," said Hansen.

"They're going to decide what they're going to do with him because it's probably not going as well as they would like.

"I just think that sometimes we pull the trigger too quickly on the coach - sometimes I guess it is warranted, but most time I don't think it is," he added.

"I think it's a good thing (Australia) have given the players a platform that's secure, because they know the coach is secure and once that happens people can get on and do what they have to do."

Sonny Bill Williams is set to play his 50th Test on Saturday as the All Blacks named a strong team for the third Bledisloe Cup game in Yokohama.

"I didn't think 50 caps was a possibility when I first started playing rugby," said the code-hopping superstar.

"My feet are firmly on the ground. I haven't had many minutes playing rugby this year but I've got confidence in my ability and it helps playing alongside these magicians."

World champions New Zealand, chasing a 3-0 series whitewash having extended their 15-year stranglehold on the Bledisloe Cup, also recalled fellow centre Ryan Crotty while Damian McKenzie returns at fullback.

The All Blacks slipped up last year after winning the first two Tests against the Wallabies and Hansen expects a stern examination this weekend.

"They're Australian so they don't need too much motivation," said Hansen, whose team face the 2019 World Cup hosts Japan in Tokyo on November 3 before flying to Europe to complete their five-match tour against England, Ireland and Italy.

"Through our history, Australia is probably the team that's hurt us more than any other team," he added.

"Everyone knows what it's like between the two countries - whether it's footy, marbles or tiddlywinks, we want to beat them. We need to be right on top of our game."

Cheika, whose side lost six of eight games before erasing a 24-point half-time deficit against Argentina, will give Israel Folau his first start as centre, while veteran Sekope Kepu could earn his 100th cap after being named among the reserves.

"When Williams gets going he's pretty difficult to stop," said Cheika when asked about a potentially explosive midfield clash.

"But we're lucky to have a guy like Izzy who can fill that spot so it should be good fun watching him play there."

Australia will also play November Tests away to Wales, Italy and England.

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